Reading – 2019

December 2019

  • A Warning NOTES: nothing new individually in the book, but a great summary of everything that’s happened so far, supposedly from the viewpoint of an insider. Quotes:
    • Page 186: “Like Athens, we face a turning point. The tone of our national conversation ha taken a nosedive. We’ve grown impatient with our bureaucracies, with our Congress, and with one another. We’ve retreated into ideological corners. At the same time, the decisions we face are not routine; they are of the highest consequence, from an exploding federal debt to protracted foreign conflicts. Resolving them requires us to come together to set the nation’s priorities through conversation and compromise. Yet we are more divided than ever. The foundations of our democracy, which were meant to set boundaries on majority rule, are being tested.

November 2019

  • Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction NOTES: fun book…we share similar desires (climbing, hiking, building) although he’s been able to realize more of his (no kids’ll do that for you). Quotes:
    • Page 36: After a paragraph about him climbing up a wall but getting stuck with no ropes and barely making it back down: “I got lucky with his help and made it back down the rock, escaping gravity that day. Joe Willie and I clambered back up the hillside. Did I learn anything about planning, looking forward, slowing my pace that day?”
    • Page 37: “Some days I woke up with a plan. Other days, most days then, I awoke too late, the dawn long gone, with a simple question for myself: ‘What am I going to do today?” I was free-spirited as planning was for a more formal life. Gradually I realized that I needed some kind of idea of where I was headed, goals to direct me. I needed a sense of direction for my work, otherwise I had little to show for my efforts at the end of the day.” Need that too.
    • Page 45: “Years later I had a student named Rich who was in my Mastery Program. His own business was laying and finishing wood floors. He had put down hundreds of gym floors, auditorium floors, private-home floors, floors for dance halls and palaces. He told me that for a time he was a running a big crew of twenty or thirty guys helping him do high-end sub-division s and bigger palaces or larger gyms. What he noticed over the years was really simple and always true. He’d get a guy on his crew who had a year or two of experience and he would the guy hiking up his pants and telling everyone how much he knew. Always full of himself, and while by no means a master floor layer, he was competent. However, his opinion of himself was sky high, higher than anyone else’s opinion of him. If this fellow laster another four of five years, a chance would take place. From an I-know-it-all position after one year, in five he was saying “There’s a lot more to this stuff than I thought. I know a lot now but I don’t know near what I thought I knew. There’s another whole world of things to discover.”
    • Page 85: “Not everyone wants to practice. Not everyone has the discipline necessary for practice. If you are skilled or want to learn something, it is the only thing that allows you to get better and to develop your skills. Most people do not want to practice. They just want to be good right away. They want to skip the work part and just be great. It takes discipline to become skilled. My father taught me discipline…. I learned to work hard and that is the most valuable thing I ever learned at school. It wasn’t the biology or the literary symbolism or theories that were critical. It was the discipline that was the most important. Forcing myself to work when I didn’t feel like it. Getting to the bench to get a job done when I wanted to play. Learning to focus when I wanted to dream. Practicing denial of some pleasures in other to get something back in turn. It is a paradox and the repayment can feel slow in coming….The dominant cultural paradigm that we are sold now of living faster, buying more or bigger or faster, is not for me. That’s one way to live. There is another. To slow down. To try to do your best work. To make your efforts count.”
    • Page 135, on failure: “People today fear the idea of failing. They become virtual players rather than active participants, choosing to watch video rather than try and fail themselves at something. They fear looking ignorant. I tell my students not to fear their ignorance, ignorance is curable. It’s stupidity I can do nothing with. Failure is how we learn. We acknowledge our ignorance first and ask for help. We try to correct it. It’s a risk.”
    • Page 147: “… a wise friend of mine, decided to start medical school at the ripe age of 44.
      He said to me, “your choices don’t have to make sense to someone else, just to you.” He was also very smart and tremendously dedicated to the idea that he could not fail himself. He could not pass up the chance to be his best self, different than the plan or expectations already in place for him, only to regret it later. Ask yourself in a week, a month, or a year if you will look back wishing that you had made that decision. To make the move will be hard, and it will take years of practice for you to become who you are, but it will be right. You must start now.
      If you just wake up and take whatever life throws at you every day, this won’t get you to your goals. Be specific, be ready, be frightened of not trying above all.”
    • Page 148: “I have to remember as well that I am in a race. Oh, people will say that I’m not competing against anyone. That’s not true. I am competing against time and I will lose.
      We all lose. In the time that I have, what will I accomplish? Will I give up and say the race is too long or too fast, too hard? Will I tire out early? I am in a race to do my work, the best work I can possibly do. It is important to keep my standards high while others are slacking off saying it’s too hard. It’s supposed to be hard; otherwise, everyone would do it.”
    • Page 168: “Of all the things that I wish I could have done in this life – forget romance, or my failed enterprises, or the grand dreams that didn’t come true – I wish that I could have stood side by side with my grandfather and my father and built something together with them.
      To have them work with me, without a word, just to have them see me work now. That would have been something.”
    • Page 177: “All I know is that we, none of us, have much time on this earth. We are each here for a short while. There will be evidence if we choose to do this creative work. We need to make things that leave a mark, a good mark, one that says someone was here trying to do something of value. Speak up, pass along the knowledge that we have so that others may benefit fom it and make a life for themselves. Show that the act of forgiveness is one of our most important tasks. Leave good evidence of yourself. Do good work.”
  • Just Enough Research – 2nd Edition NOTES: more of a general reference book for anyone in design, engineering, or product management who is looking to do research. One sentence summary: don’t use surveys and everybody lies. Other tidbits:
  • The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us NOTES: both sad and hopeful at the same time. Crazy how much of life is determined (or at least set in motion) by things you do at 18 or how much money your parents had when you entered college. Relevant quotes:
    • Page 19: “… that is where the happy story ends. Because the fourth major discovery made by Chetty and his colleagues was that rich and poor students are not attending the same colleges. Not at all. At Ivy Plus colleges, on average, more than two-thirds of undergraduates grew up rich, and fewer than 4 percent of students grew up poor. Elite college campuses are almost entirely populated by the students who benefit the least from the education they receive there: the ones who were already wealthy when they arrived on campus.”
    • Page 28: on SAT / ACT test taking strategies and anxiety: “In multiple-choice algebra questions, for instance, he tells them they don’t need to bother working through the actual math; instead, he says, they can try plugging a simple number like 2 or 10 into the equation in place of the variable; that often makes the answer obvious. On the reading comprehension sections, Ned tells students to imagine that the questions were written by lawyers, not poets: if there’s an answer that mostly feels right, look for tiny traps that might make it wrong.
      When there’s a diagram in a geometry question, see if you can figure out the answer by just eyeballing the diagram, rather than doing the math. Whichever answer looks right usually is.
      These tips are often helpful in a practical way – they’ll save you time and might win you a few extra points on the test. But their real value, for Ned’s students, is their psychological effect. Once you experience yourself the fact that these dumb tricks actually work, the test becomes much less intimidating. It loses its magical power.”
    • Page 142 on elite sports and investment banking jobs: “And who is playing the right sports? People whose parents know that this stuff is not just fun and games, people who have the money to pay for the equipment, people who know that lacrosse is this important insider thing. People in other words, with not just financial capital but also cultural capital, young people whose parents somehow intuited, in middle school, precisely which extracurricular activities their children’s investment banking recruiters were going to be looking for a decade later, and who signed their kids up and shuttled them to and from practice accordingly.”
    • Page 309 and the discussions in / around that part of the book which focus on effort and hard work, especially for students who didn’t have a chance to do test preparation and how high school grades (which are usually representative of hard work, not necessarily genius / smart) are much more representative of someone’s potential to do well at university / college… but how the SAT College Prep Board has done everything it’s power to stamp that idea down and instead imprint the idea that the only / best way of predicting a student’s success is his / her SAT score. This is maybe one of the biggest points of the book.
  • One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway NOTES: heartbreaking story, apparently a movie on Netflix as of 2018.

October 2019

  • The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer NOTES: easy to breeze through book with a lot of soft advice on how to be a better runner. Quotes:
    • Page 78: Research “…. showed that being within a 25 square foot radius of a high performer boosted performance in coworkers by 15 percent. On the flipside, being within a 25 square foot radius of a ‘toxic’ performer dropped performance in coworkers by 30 percent… task oriented enthusiasm makes everyone better. Performance gains did not persist if the high performer left.
      Theoretically, if the gains were due to better productivity or technical skills, they should persist or even improve independent of the long-term presence of the high performer. Minor himself concluded that these gains were likely the result of inspiration and purpose.”
  • Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations NOTES: lots of quotes to write down… coming soon.
  • Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life NOTES: Would not read again, likely will never re-read. Quotes:
    • Page 15: “The curse is not that Tantalus spends all eternity reaching for things just out of reach, but rather his obliviousness to the greater folly of his actions. Tantalus’s curse was his blindness to the fact he didn’t need those things in the first place… We are compelled to reach for things we supposedly need but really don’t. We don’t need to check our email right this second or need to see the latest trending news, no matter how much we feel we must.”
    • Page 24: “Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy esape from reality. How we deal with uncomfortable internal triggers determines whether we pursue healthful acts of traction or self-defeating distractions… For some people, the escape comes from checking social media, spending more time in the office, watching television, or, in some cases, drinking or taking hard drugs.”
    • Page 43: “… I learned to stay focused on the tedious work of writing books by finding the mystery in my work. I write to answer interesting questions and discover novel solutions to old problems. To use a popular aphorism, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”… The great thinkers and tinkerers of history made their discoveries because they were obsessed with the intoxicating draw of discovery — the mystery that pulls us in because we want to know more.”
    • On a seemingly unrelated topic but useful to remember, page 175: “How does a team or a company create physiological safety? Edmondson provides a three step answer in her talk: 1) Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem. Because the future is uncertain, emphasize that we’ve got to have everyones brains and voices in the game. 2) Acknowledge your own fallibility. Managers need to let people know that nobody has all the answers – we’re in this together. 3) Finally, leaders must model curiosity and ask lots of questions.”

September 2019

  • George Marshall: Defender of the Republic NOTES: Really enjoyed this book and learning more about George Marshall, his successes and his failures. Quotes:
    • Story on page 20/21: “To the contrary, Pershing – who was not offended by constructive criticism – was impressed. For Marshall’s career this turned out to be a pivotal encounter. His courage in speaking truth to power caused Pershing to confer even more power and authority on him.”
    • Page 42, on strategy: “The Meuse-Argonnne offensive was designed to strike at a key point that would result in the destruction of the entire German supply system on the Wester Front and thus end the war. The vital point – the strategic hinge – was a railroad net in and near the city of Sedan on the Meuse River that connected the two main rail routes essential to Germany’s ability to supply its armies.” Emphasis mine, need to read more about the Meuse-Argonnne offensive sometime..
    • “As listed in a letter Marshall wrote in November 1920, they [qualities he would look for in promoting officers to lead troops] include common sense, physical strength, marked energy, determination, and cheerful optimism… Marshall valued character over intellect, conservatism over flamboyance, and the loyal team player over the adventurous individualist. He avoided yes-men and conformists, preferring those who, like Pershing and himself, were unafraid to express dissent and open to criticism without taking offense.” . Emphasis mine.
    • Page 84: “Marshall’s intention from the moment he drove through the gates at Fort Benning was to revamp the curriculum and the techniques of teaching. However, to head off knee-jerk opposition and passive resistance, he began gradually, starting with the formation of a committee to assess and rethink the entire program of instruction. Without issuing edicts or orders, Marshall led but did not force the committee’s deliberations and recommendations. His leadership emanated from lessons he learned in the Great War, his infrequent but carefully chosen suggestions, and his commanding presence. Slowly a consensus around a few guiding principles emerged. The next war would be a war of movement – offensive maneuver – supported by tanks and airplanes… officers must be free to innovate and improvise, to use their imagination and think on their feet… Above all, speed of thought and speed of action will be essential to success.” Feels like I’m reading about John Boyd and Good Strategy / Bad Strategy now.
    • Page 121: Interaction with Roosevelt: “The president was unusually direct. “General Marshall, I have it in mind to choose you as the next Chief of Staff of the United States Army. What do you think about that?” Instead of expressing his gratitude, Marshall cooly replied, “Nothing, except to remind you that I have the habit of saying exactly what I think… Is that all right?” Roosevelt simply said, “Yes,” and flashed a genial smile. “You said ‘yes’ pleasantly,” rejoined Marshall, “but it may be unpleasant.” … the president’s decision most likely was based on his judgment, and his alone, that he could trust Marshall to remain loyal to his command in chief, to follow orders once a decision was made, and to be discreet.”
    • Page 127: “Marshall’s job was to transform his tiny, ill-equipped army of 188,000 officers and men into a formidable force capable of defending the Western Hemisphere against attack and, if necessary, bringing the fight to enemies overseas.
      He had to do this in the face of an American public overwhelmingly opposed to another war, an election year Congress dominated by isolationists, a noninterventionist secretary of war, and a cautious commander in chief partial to the navy and airpower.” Isolationism is back in 2019.
    • Page 157: Story about his idea to create a “biennial report… under his name that would lay out fact-based arguments for extending service terms beyond one year.”, which totally backfired because of his “hard-to-follow prose” and the fact that his report did “… not explain why the ‘national interest’ was any more imperiled in July 1941 than it had been a year earlier.” Later, on page 159, “While the dry sentences in Marshall’s Biennial Report were not particularly persuasive, his personal encounters with congressmen in public hearings and off-the-record sessions during the next several days began to change minds. Whether it was an ornate Senate chamber, a private club, or an office somewhere in Washington, when Marshall entered the room politicians from both sides of the aisle believed they were in the presence of a formidable individual in complete command of the facts and situation. Attired in a conservative business suit rather than his uniform, he spoke quietly yet forcefully, projecting an image of cool professionalism. With patience and courtesy, he answered their questions. They treated him with respect, believing him to be devoid of personal ambition, partisanship, or guile.”
    • Page 195: Eisenhower and Marshall, in discussions about the Pacific: “Your problem, he concluded, is “what should be our general line of action?” By that he meant, “Where do we draw the line and fight? And do we abandon our men in the Philippines?” Eisenhower hesitated for a moment. “Give me a few hours.” He was back that afternoon with his thoughts set forth in a three-page typewritten paper, which he kept in his pocket because he had been told Marshall expected briefings to be conducted without notes. In essence, Eisenhower asserted that the line should be drawn along the air and sea lanes from the West Coast of the US to Australia, which should serve as the launching pad for future counteroffensive against Japan.
      As to the Philippines, it would be a long time before reinforcements could get through, predicted Eisenhower, longer than MacArthur’s garrison could hold out. Nevertheless, he told Marshall that beacuse millions of people under the grip of the Japanese will be watching, we must do what we can. “They may excuse failure but they will not excuse abandonment.” Marshall agreed. “Do your best to save them.” As Eisenhower turned to leave, Marshall said, “Eisenhower, the Department is filled with men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done. The Philippines are your responsibility.” Eisenhower remembered that when Marshall said this he had an “eye that seemed to me awfully cold.” Damn.
    • Page 295: “The afternoon after learning that Eisenhower would command OVERLORD, Marshall drafted in his own hand, and the next day the president signed the following handwritten message to Stalin: ‘The immediate appointment of General Eisenhower to command of OVERLORD operation has been decided upon.’ With his customary thoughtfulness Marshall had the original retrieved from the message center. At the bottom he wrote: “Dear Eisenhower: I thought you might like to have this as a memento.
      It was written very hurriedly by me as the final meeting broke up yesterday, the presidgned signing it immediately. G.C.M” . The note is emblematic of Marshall’s magnanimous style of leadership, Eisenhower later called it “one of the most cherished mementos of World War II.”
    • Page 341-342: “Marshall thought this was nonsense, not to mention the idea of trying to send a military force across the Julian Alps by way of the Ljubljana Gap. In a 1956 interview he said that “if we had accepted the Balkan thing, it would have scattered our shots. They are letting political considerations after the fact dominate the whole concept. My idea was that we should defeat the Germany army. Keep the main thing.
    • Page 421, on how he worked with Acheson: “As to the nature of their professional relationship, Marshall said that he expected complete and even brutal candor from Acheson. And that he “… had no feelings, except those which I reserve for Mrs. Marshall.”
    • More on guiding principles, page 437: “It took three weeks, not two, for Kennan to complete the initial draft of his plan – really an outline of a plan – for European recovery. The objective, he wrote, was not to combat and defeat Communism, but to restore the economic health and vigor of European society. To achieve this goal the US would furnish financial and other assistance, provided the European recipients agreed to abide by two fundamental principles: first, the initiative for assistance must come from Europe, the program must be evolved in Europe, and the Europeans must bear the basic responsibility for it and second, the request for US support must come as a joint request, not as a series of isolated and individual appeals. This requirement for joint action was a small but critically important first step toward the integration of Western European economies. The objective and two guiding principles of Kennan’s outline, known as PPS-1, formed key underpinnings of what emerged as the Marshall Plan.”
    • Page 442, more on the Marshall Plan and a reiteration of the guiding principles: “… the meat of his short speech incorporated Kennan’s two guiding principles. “It would be neither fitting nor efficacious,” he said. “for our Government to draw up unilaterally a program to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans.” The initiative must come from them. Second, Marshall had made it clear that “there must be some agreement among the countries of Europe” as to the nature and amount of assistance they require. “The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all European nations.” When Marshall reached the end of his prepared speech and some in the crowd rose to applaud, he removed his glasses, leaned forward on the lectern and reached into his breast pocket. He drew out a piece of paper that contained a few scribbled closing remarks. It was a final plea, for him a heartfelt request that his countrymen set aside the passions and prejudices that lead to selfish nationalism, and face up to the real significance of the situation. The “whole world of the future” he concluded, “hangs on the proper judgement by the American people. It is they who must decide, “What is needed? What can be best be done? What must be done?”
    • Page 578: on the Korean War and morale: “On January 10, 1951, probably the low point of the Korean War for Marshall and the Truman administration, MacArthur sent a cable to Washington that, in the words of the joint chiefs’ historian James Schnabel, “produced profound dismay.” It was cleverly written, but in essence it was an argument in opposition to orders by the administration requiring MacArthur’s UN troops to find and hold a line in Korean while the diplomats broker a political settlement. The only viable choices, claimed MacArcthur, were either evacuation of UN forces from the peninsula, which he knew was a non-starter, or an all-out war with Red China, obviously his preferred choice. To ask his “tired” troops to hold a line in Korea and “trade life” for an undefined political policy, was “untenable”, he argued. “Their morale will become a serious threat to battle efficiency.”…. Acheson recalled that when Marshall read the sentence in the cable about poor morale “he remarked to Dean Rusk that when a general complains of the morale of his troops, the time has come to look into his own.” . Emphasis mine.
    • Page 599, some reflections on speeches he gave later in life about the Marshall plan… one paragraph stuck with me: “…Marshall’s lecture touched on one important point, not picked up in press reports, that resonates today. “American has a built-in advantage in our quest for peace,” he said. Immigrants “now constitute an organic portion of our populate.” As a consequence, he argued, American have acquired a “concern for the problems of other peoples,” a “deep urge to help the oppressed,” and a “readiness to cooperate” with other nations in preserving peace. This cooperative attitude, declared Marshall, “is one of the great and hopeful factors of the world today.” Wish this was still true.
    • Last page: “Few individuals in American history have thrown a longer shadow over world events than George Marshall. Yet as his shadow wanes, the depth of his moral character endures. It has been said that “if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” By quieting his shortcomings, General George Marshall surely passed the test.

August 2019

July 2019

  • Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd NOTES: one of my favorite subjects, this book took awhile to read and repeats themes again and again… Quotes:
    • Page 9: “Strategy thus provides the conceptual link between action and effect and between instrument and objective. It is an idea. Strategy is a plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment. Andre Beaufre captured the interactive nature, the dueling character of strategy behavior when he states that strategy is the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute. A recently posited definition emphasizes the dynamic nature of this process, and of strategy, stating that strategy is a process, a constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in a world where chance, uncertainty and ambiguity dominate, a view that is very much in line with Boyd’s idea.”
    • Page 28, on what Boyd read: “Even a casual reading of his main presentation, Patterns of Conflict, will suffice to convey the impressedion that Boyd was influenced directly by various strategic theories and his study of military history and moreover, that his ideas bear close resemblance to those of a variety of authors. His study covered every known strategist from Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Maurice de Saxe, Pierre de Bourcet, Compte de Guibert, Napoleon, Baron de Jomini and Karl von Clausewitz, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Alfred von Schlieffen, Eric von Ludendorff, the British theorist Julian Corbett, J.F.C. Fuller, T.E. Lawrence and Basil Liddell Hart, the German theorists / practitioners Heinz Guderian, Eric von Manstein, Hermann Balck, and Erwin Rommel, as well as theorists of revolutionary and guerrilla warfare such as Karl Marx and Vo Nguyen Giap, to name the most familiar ones.” Damn.
    • Page 36, on knowledge: “Sun Tzu’s work implies it is possible to have complete knowledge, but it emanates not from the attainment of absolute certainty, but from the formation of a correct interpretation of the situation, a very important them in Boyd’s work. Foreknowledge springs from the the ability to discern patterns and relations, implying that it derives from a holistic view of an object. Even if one has perfect information it is of no value if it is not coupled to a penetrating understanding of its meaning, if one does not see the patterns. Judgement is key. Without judgment, data mean nothing. It is not necessarily the one with more information who will come out victorious, it is the one with better judgement, the one who is better at discerning patterns.”
    • Page 38: “According with the enemy contains the assumption that one can shape the opponent, and for that one should act in accord with the opponent’s actions. This is an essential idea in Chinese philosophy and it is expressed as yin. Every situation has its give and take and can be turned into an opportunity. Yin involves responsiveness to one’s context, to adapt oneself to a situation in such a manner as to take full advantage of the defining circumstances, and to avail oneself of the possibility of the situation in achieving one’s own purposes: ‘Do not fix any time for battle, assess and react to the enemy in order to determine the strategy for battle… One must adapt oneself to the enemy’s changing posture as naturally and as effortlessly as flowing water winding down a hillside.”
    • Page 46: “His maturing ideas were incorporated in experiments ongoing in the Amphibious Warfare School in discussions within the Marine Corps Development Center (which is the doctrine development organization). Boyd emphasized speed, tempo, variety, surprise, trust, initiative, movement, and that his view the moral and mental dimensions came before technology, superiority in numbers and massed firepower, items the Corps was short of, was obviously appealing.”
    • Page 57: “As observation is guided by and presupposes theory, theories cannot be established as true or probably true in the light observational evidence. Theories are construed as speculative and tentative conjectures or guesses freely created by the human intellect in an attempt to overcome problems encountered by previous theories to give an adequate account of some aspects of the world or universe. Once proposed, speculative theories are to be rigorously and ruthlessly tested by observation and experiment. Theories that fail to stand up to observational and experimental tests must be eliminated and replace by further speculative conjectures. Sciences progresses by trial and error, by conjecture and refutations, a dynamic capture by Boyd in The Conceptual Spiral in his definition of science as ‘a self correcting process of observation, hypothesis and test.'”
    • Page 58: “Boyd owned two copies of The Selfish Gene, in addition to Dawkins’ other famous books The Extended Phenotype and The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins introduced the term meme as the cultural replicator. Memes are the vehicle for cultural revolution, just as much as the genes are the vehicles for genetic evolution. Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.
      Ideas, including strategic ones, replicate like genes and survive, mutate, or become ignored and extinct. They are entities that are capable of being transmitted from one brain to another and can be considered a virus of the brain.”
    • Page 68: “… it meant that the act of observation heavily shaped reality. No single theoretical language articulating the variable to which a well-define value can be attributed can exhaust the physical content of a system. Various possible languages and points of view about the system may be complementary. They all deal with the same reality, but is is impossible to reduce them to one single description. The irreducible plurality of perspectives on the same reality expresses the impossibility of a divine point of view from which the whole of reality is visible.”
    • Page 114: “Structually, the key theme is self-organization. The optimal organizational form for adaptation in turbulent environments is seen as the ‘cellular’ form operating in a network, an idea included in Boyd’s views on command and control. Small teams operating relatively autonomously pursue entreprenurial opportunities and share know-how among each other. Meanwhile, the shared values of corporate culture in belief systems provide tight but internal, and perhaps even ‘tacit’ control as a form of protocol. At the same time, loose control comes from the interaction between supervisor and employees that encourages information sharing, trust and learning. The key to loose control is management’s trust in employees to act accordingly to shared values, therefore setting them free to search for opportunities, learn, and apply accumulating knowledge to innovative efforts. Successful leaders of complex organizations allow experimentation, mistakes, contradictions, uncertainty, and paradox, so the organization can evolve. Managing an organization as a complex system means letting go of control and a focus instead on the power of the interconnected world of relationships and the feedback loops.”
    • Page 141: “Human nature is the subsequent topic he introduces, which reveals his somewhat Dwariniian take on life, revealing the influence of both Heilbroner and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. The goal of organisms, according to Boyd, is: to survive on our own terms, or improve our capacity for independent action. The competition for limited resources to satisfy these desires may force one to … diminish adversary’s capacity for independent action, or deny him the opportunity to survive on his own terms, or make it impossible for him to survive at all… Boyd then offers the notion, not more than that, that 1) it may be advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger and diminish an adversary’s capacity for independent action, 2) organisms must also cooperate and harmonize their activities in their endeavors to survive as an organic synthesis, 3) furthermore to shape and adapt to change, one cannot be passive, but instead one must take the initiative, 4) thus variety, rapidity, harmony and initiative seem to be the key qualities that permit one to shape and adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
  • Search and Rescue: A Wilderness Doctor’s Life-and-Death Tales of Risk and Reward NOTES: in an alternative life, I’m an ER doctor volunteering with the Crag Rats like this guy. Worth noting that having a super demanding ER job and volunteering with an organization that regularly calls you out at all hours probably makes it really hard to be a supportive and present spouse. Quotes:
    • Page 68: “For summer trail rescues, I carry a lightweight pack. Everyone has a slightly different version of their ready pack. I carry a long-sleeve polyester shirt, medium-weight jacket, work gloves, medical gloves, radio, two headlamps, extra batteries, Mount Hood and Columbia Gorge maps, a roll of tape, GPS, and a small survival kit. I carry personal rope-rescue gear, which includes a helmet, goggle, 20 meters x 7 mm rope, three locking carabiners, three prussik cords, a belay device, a 10-meter length of webbing, and a personal harness. I also have a bottle of water and a few energy bars stocked in my pack.”
    • Page 117: “Luckily a pathway for success and safety can help us mitigate risk in mountain rescues, and this pathway works for almost any stressful situation. The pathway is: 1) recognize the situation, 2) take a time out, 3) prioritize, 4) use a checklist, 5) divide up the tasks.”
    • Page 119: “In fact, I use time-outs in every facet of my life. When I grew up we had a family dinner every Sunday night that my dad called ‘A meeting of the family corporation,’ to recap the week and plan the next. I still carry on this tradition by having a Sunday night dinner with my daughters and keeping a notebook of ‘minutes’ each week. Mostly we talk about difficult situations at school, the next week’s schedule, and upcoming travel adventures, which is my favorite part.”
    • Page 120: Really liked the Coast Guard / GAR model for risk: “… When faced with a difficult mission, every member of a response team assigned to a mission rates risk in six categories on a scale of 0 to 10: 0 being no risk, and 10 being extreme risk. The rating is done in confidence, because the supervisor is often responsible for the first three categories and subordinates can often be reluctant to criticize their superior. The subjects are: 1) supervision: is the supervisor well qualified, focused, engaged and impartial? 2) planning: are the preparation and plan adequate? 3) team selection: are members skilled for the job? 4) team fitness: are members physically and mentally ready? 5) environment: are the weather, terrain, and sea conditions safe or manageable? 6) event / evolution complexity: is the allotted time and complexity of the task reasonable? Once each member has rated the six categories, he or she adds up the numbers, the sum of which will range from 0 to 60, and plats the score based on 3 colors. A score of less than 24 is green, low risk. A score of 24 to 44 is amber, moderate risk. A score of 44 or more is red or high risk.
    • Page 169: “… Mount Defiance. At an elevation of 5,010 feet, it’s the tallest peak in the gorge. Because the peak is only a few miles as the crow flies from the Columbia River, elevation 150 feet, the twin trails – Mount Defiance, 5 miles to the summit, and Starvation Creek, 7 miles – are among the steepest you’ll find anywhere. Many mountaineers use them as training hikes to get in shape for climbing.”

June 2019

  • Gamer Nation: The Rise of Modern Gaming and the Compulsion to Play Again NOTES: great counter-balance book to Steven Johnson’s book about technology / games. Quotes:
    • “Any rational parent knows that saying yes to all of your child’s demands produces terrible results in the long term. You need to cause your child short-term suffering every day, in many facets of their lives. You drive them to school despite their teas, deny them a much-craved third episode of a television show, and fail to fully appreciate the importance of a concert or event, nixing attending due to the cost or energy (and time) required to satisfy it…”
    • Page 70, on time that’s spent in front of a monitor: “In 2016, American who play games report playing them an average of 2.41 hours a day (men) and 1.85 hours a day (women)…Television watching comes in at 3.45 hours and ‘computer use for leisure, excluding games’, totals 1.51 hours… The categories affected most by the increase in gaming are socializing, reading, and arts and entertainment.”
    • Page 84-85: “Games in general, and video games in particular, are a massive economic force in the modern American economy, but they have an even greater impact on our increasingly narrow slivers of free time. Games are not like an expensive car, that, when bought, represents the end of a major time investment (choosing the model, etc..). Games represent an active and ongoing use of our time, and because of this, it’s not sensible to ask if games are ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ or if they impact children and adults in ways that are aggressively negative or positive, because playing a game, or watching a gaming YouTube video, or reading a message about about cheat codes and technical game strategies, remove the time spent on activity from our use forever. The question isn’t a black or white ‘Are we playing too many games?’ The question should be, ‘Because we are playing so many games, what are we not doing in the meantime, and is this a long term benefit or harm?’
    • Page 98: “Third years ago, before the advent of the internet, Stolle would have been playing poker with his friends or trying to find a date or tinkering hi his garage with a lathe or motorcycle or reading a book or listening to the radio. It’s not that video games are themselves, generally noneducational; it’s that highly immersive, reductive time sinks such as video games limit growth by closing off other avenues of deeper enlightenment.”
    • Page 180: “On a more down-to-earth level, surveys indicate that the vast majority of humans are happiest when they have ea full and diverse life, not one obsessively focused on games. Again, there are edge cases – people who are willing and happy to spend 10 hours a day playing Call of Duty and don’t care about anything else they are missing out on, or professional poker players who eat, sleep, and think about nothing but poker. These are the extremes. For the rest of us, too much game playing isn’t healthy.”
    • Page 193: “McGonigal is yet another in a seemingly endless series of B-list celebrities or authors who achieved fame by sturdy application of the ‘but actually’ trope. You know the one: hey do you think exercise makes you live longer? I bet you do… but it actually doesn’t (at this point in the article or speech one rat study is city, all contradictory evidence is ignored, and the speaker breezily continues with the apparently contrarian point that everyone is happy to embrace). She’s doing that same sort of thing but pushes it to absurdly grand extremes. You think playing games is bad? I bet you do… but it actually isn’t, in fact more people should play games since games will change the world.” This after a paragraph or two about how gamification is going to change the world.
    • Page 208, story about John Jacobsen: What John represents is the positive, beneficial, and even ennobling power of video games, which are able to expand the mind’s attention toward the real world, rather than limit it through an obsessive inward and virtual focus. John’s love of games has expanded his community of friends and contracts throughput the country and extended his understanding in fields as eclectic as music, electronic board repair, and graphic design — in short enriched his life in ways powerfully fulfilling. The key to John’s positive relationship to games is that he is, in a word, active. Games are not ma method of passively passing the time or escaping into distraction; games are a gateway to active involvement with other people, other hobbies and interests. If all gamers the world over were as active as John, I would be writing a very different book.”
    • Page 228: The short-term pleasures of gaming are difficult to compare to the negative long-term effects of dropping out of the job market, not pushing for a better job, or failing to search for work as hard as one might. Gaming is an immediately enjoyable but empty pleasure; figuring out how to get a better job is difficult but might have significant and meaingful long term value. I find it hard to imagine that any mature man will look back on a five year slice of his twenties during which he was living with his parents and spending the majority of his time playing video games and consider it a positive experience. Yes, it might have been fun at the time but it also represnts a complete dereliction of responsibility. It’s putting off the inevitable. You can’t live with your parents your whole life. You can’t get a less depressing and higher paying job by not engaging with the real world. You can’t meet real friends, go on trips, or find the love of your life by sitting at home playing video games. Doing so winnows away the possibilities for a dynamic life, stripping them down to the most basic level: the game.”
    • Page 238: “… The ultimate goal of the attention economy is to capture your attention and keep it for as long as possible, and if this involves addiction in some form (minor or major)… that’s a feature, not a bug. It’s cowardly to let companies who embrace this as their business model off the hook for their attempt to capture and retain your attention, pulling you away from your family, the external world, and harming your wellbeing. Taking offense is the correct response; anger’s even better if you can manage it. It’s a game that’s being played in your brain for control of your brain, and very few people are aware of the psychological warfare that occurs every time they turn on a smart phone.”

May 2019

  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World NOTES: great book with concrete steps to accomplish the goals he laid out. I deleted Instagram from the phone, blocked the websites that I kept refreshing, turned off calls and notifications (except for favorite contacts) and even after a couple days I feel better about my relationship with my phone. I’m working on putting a seasonal and weekly leisure plan in place. Quotes:
    • “… Long before Henry David Thoreau exclaimed ‘simplicity, simplicity, simplicity’, Marcus Aurelius asked ‘You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?’… Because digital minimalists spend so much less time connected than their peers, it’s easy to think of their lifestyle as extreme, but the minimalists would argue that this perception is backward: what’s extreme is how much time everyone else spends staring at their screens.”
    • “When Bill Maher joked that the App Store was coming for our souls, he was actually onto something. As Socrates explained to Phaedrus in Plato’s famous chariot metaphor, our soul can be understood as a chariot driver struggling to rein two horses, one representing our better nature and the other our baser impulses. When we increasingly cede autonomy to the digital, we energize the latter horse and make the chariot driver’s struggle to steer increasingly difficult — a diminishing of our soul’s authority.”
    • “Digital minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
    • The principles of digital minimalism: 1) Clutter is costly: digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation. 2) Optimization is important: digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology. 3) Intentionality is satisfying: digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.”
    • “You can enjoy solitude in a crowded coffee shop, on a subway car, or, as President Lincoln discovered at his cottage, while sharing your lawn with two companies of Union soldiers, so long as your mind is left to grapple only with its own thoughts. On the other hand, solitude can be banished in even the quietest setting if you allow input from other minds to intrude… Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences — wherever you happen to be.”
    • “… Writing a letter to yourself is an excellent mechanism for generating … solitude. It not only frees you from outside inputs but also provides a conceptual scaffolding on which to sort and organize your thinking… Dwight Eisenhower leveraged a ‘practice of thinking by writing’ throughout his career to make sense of complicated decisions and tame intense emotions. He was not the only leader to deploy this habit… Abraham Lincoln had a habit of recording thoughts on scraps of paper that he would stick in his hat for safekeeping.”
    • On coffee shop hours, walking hours, office hours: “I’ve also seen people deploy daily walks for this purpose. Steve Jobs was famous for his long strolls around the tree-lined Silicon Valley neighborhood where he lived. If you were in his inner circle, you could expect invitations to join him for what was sure to be an intense conversation. Ironically for the inventor of the iPhone, Jobs was not the type of person who would be interested in maintaining important relationships through ongoing drips of digital pings.”
    • On reclaiming leisure: 1) prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption. 2) Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world. 3) Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.
    • On leisure plans: “A good seasonal plan contains two different types of items: objectives and habits that you intend to honor in the upcoming season. The objectives describe specific goals you hop to accomplish, with accompanying strategies for how you will accomplish them. The habits describe behavior rules you hope to stick with throughout the season.”
    • On slow news consumption: “… if you’re interested in commentary on political and cultural issues, this experience is almost always enhanced by also seeking out he best arguments against your preferred position.”
  • Lost Person Behavior: A search and rescue guide on where to look – for land, air and water NOTES: …
  • Meditations: A New Translation NOTES: …
  • The Art of Fielding: A Novel NOTES: read it while camping by myself on the Deschutes river. Good escape if you like baseball…. quote: “That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Swchartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn’t do this alone; they needed a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you. A bad coach made everyone suffer in the same way, and so was more like a torturer.”
  • Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World NOTES: fascinating book about a topic I love (maps), quotes:
    • Page 50: “What Simonides discovered through this experience was that by imprinting or stamping loci, or a place, in one’s mind and placing a memory in that place, it could be easily recalled. He recommended that one build an architectural structure with rooms and hallways imagined in great detail and then put information, names and words in those places. When the orator or person needs to recall a piece of information, he revisits the building and the places where he has stored his memories. When it comes to long pieces of lyric poetry or ballads, the author of the Ad Herennium instructs students to learn the verses by heart by repeating them, and then replaces the words with images and associate those images with loci.”
    • Page 121: “Basso describes Western Apache culture as one in which storytelling, places, traveling, memory and future imagining – all of the elements involved in wayfinding – are the ingredients required for wisdom itself. One day Basso talked to Dudley Patterson, a horseman who lived in Cibecue, who tried to answer Basso’s question: What is wisdom? “Your life is like a trail. You must be watchful as you go,” Patterson told him.”
    • Page 130: “But there are fundamental limitations to the machine’s potential. One rainy day in November I went to see Winston teach his extremely popular undergraduate course at MIT, “Intro to AI”. I listened to him explain the Strong Story Hypothesis to hundreds of students and demonstrate its abilities. “Can Watson do this?” he quipped. But then he posed a series of questions to his young students casting doubt on his own invention. “Can we think without language?” The room was quiet. “Well, we know from those whose language cortex is gone that they can’t read or speak or understand spoken language,” he explained. “Are they stupid? They can still play chess, do arithmetic, find hiding places, process music. Even if the external language apparatus is blown away, I think they still have inner language.” He paused. “Can we thinking without a body?” Quiet. “What does Genesis know about love if it doesn’t have a hormonal system?” he said. “What does it know about dying if it doesn’t have a body that rots? Can it still be intelligent?”
    • Page 178: “If the map is a psychologist’s fallacy for understanding wayfinding, what is a more accurate metaphor? Consider how you get from your home to work. Do you see a picture of the whole route, a bird’s-eye view from above and begin charting your course? Likely not.
      Rather, you know your starting point and the series of decisions you will make, and you have a visual memory of the route that follows. It’s an experience that is perhaps more akin to recalling a melody… When I think about getting to work, it’s like I want to start humming or singing a song. I don’t hum the whole song before I begin. I think, how does it begin? As with humming a melody, I might get lost at some point and then I would stop and keep thinking of the thread again – what happens after this point? I see the analogy of navigation and music as quite direct because they are both temporally structured information.”
    • Page 297: “Tuan’s definition of topophilia is, I think, germane to wayfinding. Across cultures, navigation is influenced by particular environmental conditions – snow, sand, water, wind – and topographies – mountain, valley, river, ocean, and desert. But in all of them, it is also a means by which individuals develop a sense of attachment and feeling for places. Navigating becomes a way of knowing, familiarity, and fondness. It is how you can fall in love with a mountain or a forest. Wayfinding is how we accumulate treasure maps of exquisite memories.”
    • Page 302: “The consequence of mass upheaval are the fracturing of communities and the severance of roots that connect us to places and each other. In ‘The Need for Roots’, the French philosopher Simone Weil claimed that ‘to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’ A condition of life is that each human being has multiple roots in order to ‘draw wellnigh the whole of his moral, intellectual and spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a natural part.’ But Weil believed that we had ceased to know the world around us and that ‘a lot of people think that a little peasant boy of the present day who goes to primary school knows more than Pythagoras did, simply because he can repeat parrot-wise that the earth moves around the sun. In actual fact, he no longer looks up at the heavens.’ Weil was a teacher, factory worker, member of the French Resistance, and mystic, and she wrote this in the midst of World War II as millions of refugees fled violence and genocide. She warned that uprootedness is the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed, leading people to fall into spiritual lethargy or perpetuate their uprootedness against others.”

April 2019

  • Ueli Steck: My Life in Climbing (Legends and Lore) NOTES: he lived an absurdly adventured filled life in a short time. Quote: “… This is what most people don’t understand about Ueli. The way to achieve one’s dreams is by working constantly to bring them about. His ability to focus on and examine the relationship between alpinism and daily life is not only honorable, it is something to emulate.”

January 2019

  • In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business NOTES: Probably was / could have been a long essay.
    • “… dissent stimulates thought that is more divergent and less biased. Dissent motivates us to seek more information and to consider alternatives than we would otherwise, spurring us to contemplate the cons as well as the pros of various positions.”
    • “We do know something about the process of good decision-making. On balance, a good process leads to a good decision. Good decision-making, at its heart, is divergent thinking. When we think divergently, we think in multiple directions, seek information and consider facts on all sides of the issue, and thinking about the cons as well as the pros. Bad decision-making is the reverse. Thinking conversantly, we focus more narrowly, usually in one direction. We seek information and consider facts that support an initial preference. We tend not to consider the cons of the position, no do we look at alternative ways of interpreting the facts.”
    • “… Another form of liberation is to be less afraid to think differently from others. Whether or not you decide to express it, you don’t want to lose the ability to ‘know what you know’. Nor do you want to fall prey to the self brainwashing that often accompanies consensus and a need to belong. Cults know the power of self-brainwashing all too well. So do abusive individuals. There is liberation in recognizing the source of their power as well as your own.”
    • On dissent: “… Once you express a position different from the majority’s, the queries start. The bodies turn to face you. You are asked numerous questions on why you take such a position. Your questioners imply that you are wrong simply because your position is in the minority. You are under attack. Bear in mind, however, that there is a positive side to this. During this grilling, you have the floor, at least until they cut you off. This provides an opportunity to argue your position since you are the focus of attention and communication.”
    • On compromise: “… It was the late compromise condition that it both ways — both public and private attitude change. When a dissenter compromised at the last minute, he did two things. He appeared consistent and, at the same time, flexible enough to achieve an agreement. He did not change his position. He simply offered a concession. As a result, he achieved both outcomes.”
    • On consensus: “There is a reason why organizations like Jim Jone’s Peoples Temple create and maintain consensus. There is a reason why cultlike organizations cultivate consensus and reject dissent ‘like a virus’, as described in popular books such as Built to Last… majority opinion has a forceful impact on gaining agreement, especially when there is consensus.”
    • On polarization: which is “… one of the most powerful and widely research phenomena in social psychology. Here is the basic finding: when people share a leaning in a certain direction and they discuss their views, they become more extreme in that direction. There direction, or ‘pole’, could be a ‘guilty’ or a ‘not guilty’ verdict, it could be advocacy for or against making a merger; it could be liking or disliking Americans. It could be an inclination to invade the Bay of Pigs.”
    • On decision making: “… instead of debating only the one plan, they followed a new decision-making approach that called for exploring options. For instance, someone suggested an alternative to invasion — a naval blockade to force the Soviets to remote the missiles. Other changes in the decision-making process process reportedly included JFK’s instructions to his brother Bobby to lead a thorough deliberation of the two alternatives. The discussions were frank, and no one chaired the meeting. The advisers separated into two groups, and each wrote a position paper favoring one of the alternatives. Then they swapped papers. They dissented; they criticized the alternatives. Only then were the position papers presented to the president… Kennedy asked each member to be a skeptical generalist. He had learned not to be a directed leader.”
    • “The underlying message of this book is twofold. Consensus, while comforting and harmonious as well as efficient, often leads us to make bad decisions. Dissent, while often annoying, is precisely the challenge that we need to reassess our own views and make better choices. It helps us consider alternatives and generate creative solutions. Dissent is a liberator.”

Previous Years

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